Pakistan's decision to convict a doctor who helped the U.S. track down Osama bin Laden was met with outrage in the U.S. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.
WASHINGTON — A Senate panel expressed its outrage Thursday over Pakistan's conviction of a doctor who helped the United States track down Osama bin Laden, voting to cut aid to Islamabad by $33 million — $1 million for every year of the physician's 33-year sentence for high treason.
"It's arbitrary, but the hope is that Pakistan will realize we are serious," said Senator Richard Durbin after the unanimous 30-0 vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
"It's outrageous that they (the Pakistanis) would say a man who helped us find Osama bin Laden is a traitor," said Durbin, the Senate's number two Democrat.
The sentencing on Wednesday of Dr Shakil Afridi for 33 years on treason charges added to U.S. frustrations with Pakistan over what Washington sees as its reluctance to help combat Islamist militants fighting the Afghan government and the closure of supply routes to NATO troops in Afghanistan.
'A schizophrenic ally'
The punitive move came on top of deep reductions the Appropriations Committee already had made to President Barack Obama's budget request for Pakistan, a reflection of the growing congressional anger over its cooperation in combatting terrorism. The overall foreign aid budget for next year had slashed more than half of the proposed assistance and threatened further reductions if Islamabad failed to open the overland supply routes.
"We need Pakistan, Pakistan needs us, but we don't need Pakistan double-dealing and not seeing the justice in bringing Osama bin Laden to an end," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who pushed for the additional cut in aid.
He called Pakistan "a schizophrenic ally," helping the United States at one turn, but then aiding the Haqqani network which has claimed responsibility for several attacks on Americans. The group also has ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban.
It's been a tough year for Pakistan U.S. relations. Crucial NATO supply routes have been shuttered since November, there is tension over drone strikes and now the countries are at odds over the treason conviction of the Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. locate Osama Bin Laden.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the jailing of the doctor was "unjust and unwarranted" and vowed to continue to press the case with Islamabad. "The United States does not believe there is any basis for holding Dr. Afridi."
Afridi was accused of running a fake vaccination campaign, in which he collected DNA samples, that is believed to have helped the American intelligence agency track down bin Laden in a Pakistani town last year.
The al-Qaida leader was killed in the town of Abbottabad a year ago in a unilateral U.S. special forces raid that heavily damaged ties between Islamabad and Washington. Since then, there have been growing calls in the U.S. Congress to cut off some or all of U.S. aid.
Senator John McCain, top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said lawmakers had agreed to withhold certain military aid for Pakistan until the defense secretary certifies that Pakistan is not detaining people like Afridi.
Muhammed Muheisen / AP
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"All of us are outraged at the imprisonment and sentencing of some 33 years — virtually a death sentence — to the doctor in Pakistan who was instrumental ... in the removal of Osama bin Laden," McCain said, adding that Afridi was innocent of any wrongdoing. "That has frankly outraged all of us."
The Senate Appropriations Committee's action docking Pakistan's aid came after a subcommittee earlier in the week slashed assistance to Islamabad -- and warned it would withhold even more cash if Pakistan does not reopen supply routes for NATO soldiers in neighboring Afghanistan.
Members of the committee complained about mafia-style extortion by Pakistan in seeking truck fees in exchange for opening the supply lines. The cost had been $250 per truck prior to the attack. Pakistan is now demanding $5,000 per truck. The United States has countered at $500.
Pakistan has been one of the leading recipients of U.S. foreign aid in recent years. Even after the cuts voted this week it still would receive about $1 billion in fiscal 2013, if the full Senate and House of Representatives approve. That figure includes $184 million for State Department operations and $800 million for foreign assistance. Counterinsurgency money for Pakistan would be limited to $50 million.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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